Beware Living Trust Scams

Elderly woman and money in the background
Uela Napier has a warning.

"I got three or four bouquets of flowers," she says.

Beware, she says, of a salesman bearing gifts.

"Then another time, I got some candy and then the slab of smoked salmon," she adds.

According to CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone, it all came from a man selling living trusts, an increasingly popular way for many people to arrange their finances.

"It was a year before I found out it was a scam," says Napier.

Often a living trust can be a more efficient and less costly alternative to a will. But scam artists are using living trusts to fleece the trusting.

"We think 10,000 people were swindled in that way," says Bill Lockyer, California's attorney general.

According to Lockyer, just one company, The Alliance for Mature Americans, took millions from the elderly.

"At first it seemed we were on a very honorable mission," says George Hoffman, a former living trust salesman.

George Hoffman worked briefly for the company and says clients were made to reveal everything about their finances in a questionnaire.

"It was called, affectionately called, a 'smoke sheet' and it was designed to smoke out the funds these people had in their retirement plans and savings accounts and whatever," says Hoffman.

The Alliance's own training film showed salesmen how to gather that confidential information.

"We will draw up letters of instruction to banks, brokerage houses and financial institutions," said the training video.

Armed with all the details, salesmen would then convince the elderly their savings were not safe.

Such an Alliance salesman sent all the gifts to Uela Napier and talked her into moving her money into an annuity he claimed paid 6.5 percent.

"It was a real good rate. But I never got a dime," says Napier.

California's Attorney General closed down the Alliance for Mature Americans and in December won a $200 million settlement.

George Hoffman testified against the company and its salesmen.

"They see taking money from the seniors as a lot easier than doing something else like robbing banks," he said.

The lesson that Uela Napier learned: If considering a living trust, be careful who you trust.